PRESIDENT BUSH came to Washington vowing to be a uniter, not a divider. Well, you win some and you lose some. But there is one member of his administration who has not broken that promise: Donald Rumsfeld. With indefatigable brio, he has long since united Democrats, Republicans, generals and civilians alike in calling for his scalp.Repeats what we have all heard already and then gets to the meat.
What made Mr. Rumsfeld’s speech noteworthy wasn’t its toxic effort to impugn the patriotism of administration critics by conflating dissent on Iraq with cut-and-run surrender and incipient treason. That’s old news. No, what made Mr. Rumsfeld’s performance special was the preview it offered of the ambitious propaganda campaign planned between now and Election Day. An on-the-ropes White House plans to stop at nothing when rewriting its record of defeat (not to be confused with defeatism) in a war that has now lasted longer than America’s fight against the actual Nazis in World War II.Vietnam II anyone?
Here’s how brazen Mr. Rumsfeld was when he invoked Hitler’s appeasers to score his cheap points: Since Hitler was photographed warmly shaking Neville Chamberlain’s hand at Munich in 1938, the only image that comes close to matching it in epochal obsequiousness is the December 1983 photograph of Mr. Rumsfeld himself in Baghdad, warmly shaking the hand of Saddam Hussein in full fascist regalia. Is the defense secretary so self-deluded that he thought no one would remember a picture so easily Googled on the Web? Or worse, is he just too shameless to care?
Mr. Rumsfeld didn’t go to Baghdad in 1983 to tour the museum. Then a private citizen, he had been dispatched as an emissary by the Reagan administration, which sought to align itself with Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. Saddam was already a notorious thug. Well before Mr. Rumsfeld’s trip, Amnesty International had reported the dictator’s use of torture — “beating, burning, sexual abuse and the infliction of electric shocks” — on hundreds of political prisoners. Dozens more had been summarily executed or had “disappeared.” American intelligence agencies knew that Saddam had used chemical weapons to gas both Iraqi Kurds and Iranians.
According to declassified State Department memos detailing Mr. Rumsfeld’s Baghdad meetings, the American visitor never raised the subject of these crimes with his host. (Mr. Rumsfeld has since claimed otherwise, but that is not supported by the documents, which can be viewed online at George Washington University’s National Security Archive.) Within a year of his visit, the American mission was accomplished: Iraq and the United States resumed diplomatic relations for the first time since Iraq had severed them in 1967 in protest of American backing of Israel in the Six-Day War.
In his speech last week, Mr. Rumsfeld paraphrased Winston Churchill: Appeasing tyrants is “a bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last.” He can quote Churchill all he wants, but if he wants to self-righteously use that argument to smear others, the record shows that Mr. Rumsfeld cozied up to the crocodile of Baghdad as smarmily as anyone. To borrow the defense secretary’s own formulation, he suffers from moral confusion about Saddam.
Mr. Rumsfeld also suffers from intellectual confusion about terrorism. He might not have appeased Al Qaeda but he certainly enabled it. Like Chamberlain, he didn’t recognize the severity of the looming threat until it was too late. Had he done so, maybe his boss would not have blown off intelligence about imminent Qaeda attacks while on siesta in Crawford.
One obstacle is that White House allies, not just Democrats, are sounding the alarm about Iraq. In recent weeks, prominent conservatives, some still war supporters and some not, have steadily broached the dread word Vietnam: Chuck Hagel, William F. Buckley Jr. and the columnists Rich Lowry and Max Boot. A George Will column critical of the war so rattled the White House that it had a flunky release a public 2,400-word response notable for its incoherence.Yes when the old slogans don't work anymore come up with a new one. But as we have noted here and here it's the Bush administration that most resembles fascists. Don't believe me - just look up the definition.
If even some conservatives are making accurate analogies between Vietnam and Iraq, one way for the administration to drown them out is to step up false historical analogies of its own, like Mr. Rumsfeld’s. In the past the administration has been big on comparisons between Iraq and the American Revolution — the defense secretary once likened “the snows of Valley Forge” to “the sandstorms of central Iraq” — but lately the White House vogue has been for “Islamo-fascism,” which it sees as another rhetorical means to retrofit Iraq to the more salable template of World War II.
“Islamo-fascism” certainly sounds more impressive than such tired buzzwords as “Plan for Victory” or “Stay the Course.” And it serves as a handy substitute for “As the Iraqis stand up, we’ll stand down.” That slogan had to be retired abruptly last month after The New York Times reported that violence in Baghdad has statistically increased rather than decreased as American troops handed over responsibilities to Iraqis. Yet the term “Islamo-fascists,” like the bygone “evildoers,” is less telling as a description of the enemy than as a window into the administration’s continued confusion about exactly who the enemy is. As the writer Katha Pollitt asks in The Nation, “Who are the ‘Islamo-fascists’ in Saudi Arabia — the current regime or its religious-fanatical opponents?”
Updated with Truthout Link